In an interview recently, tennis superstar Serena Williams talked about her hiatus from tennis after a health scare two years ago. “I didn’t think about tennis at all. At that point I thought “okay, I want to live. There’s so much more to life than a sport. There’s family and there’s God and there’s a bigger picture.” Her epic comeback showed that taking a break can be good – not just for your health, but your career too. Most of us aren’t grand slam champions, but many of us can be guilty for giving all of our energy to one place, and we don’t have the luxury of taking a break from our jobs.
I worked as a TV publicist for 7 years and I lived and breathed the job. I did have some fun – let’s be honest you work hard and play hard – but I had nothing but leftovers in the energy bank to give to the other important things in my life. While I enjoyed the fast paced culture of television, I found whenever I did have time off or take a vacation I would inevitably get sick – my body was usually exhausted and I would often work up until the very last minute (sending work emails while boarding the plane). I remember one family holiday where I was still receiving calls and texts about an entertainment show I was publicizing. I often had to leave our holiday house so I could receive a phone signal so I could make the calls so I wasn’t missing any deadlines. I also ended up with the flu – my family was enjoying the beach while I curled up in a duvet on the couch watching reruns of Full House. I’m not saying any of this to complain – I was grateful for the job opportunities offered to me – but working constantly does take a toll. Ambition is a great thing, but if you don’t consciously focus on things outside your job, it can be unhealthy.
After moving countries, working in countless different roles in the media, including election campaigns and TV programmes, I have finally been able to say – there is more to life than my career – you just have to prioritize them. That doesn’t mean quitting your job and running an orphanage, but making time for things and people that bring you joy. Because if you allow it, your career will always take more from you, leave you broke and begging for more. If you don’t make regular deposits into the things that matter most in life you’ll face: burn out, losing people you care about, and becoming a boring work robot. In the spirit of getting a life, here’s a reminder of 5 things more important than your career.
5 things more important than your career
1. Your loved ones. Let’s face it – when all is said and done these are the people who are likely to be there for you when times get tough. My dad died when I was 12 which was of course devastating, but it gave me a new found respect and love for my family. Make time for your parents or send a text to your siblings and make a plan for dinner. One of my sisters lives in Australia, while the other lives in near me in London. We regularly plan skype dates so we can catch up on family stuff and stay connected. My husband and I both work full-time and he regularly travels for work – so we agree to a proper date night every two weeks, no matter what is going on in our schedules. Your friendship circle also gets smaller the older you get and it’s harder to cultivate friendships, so make time for your besties. Your village of loved ones, like your career, require work to keep them strong.
2. Your health. Gosh I wish this had clicked earlier. When I get stressed, I turn to food. When I started working in television, everyone drank – after a good day or a bad one. The combination of always working and usually combining my social life with work people took a toll on my health. I was sick more often, sluggish at the best of times, and lived off caffeine and sugar for the most part. I gained a lot of weight and just stopped enjoying life because I wasn’t taking care of my most precious asset – my body. It wasn’t until I made a decision in January 2015 to run a half marathon (and signed up for it after a few wines one evening) that I had to cut out time for my body and cut down on the things that were abusing it – sugar, caffeine, wine. This would also prove to be one of the most important and challenging six months of my career – I was working at the BBC during an election campaign. The hours were longer, the work incredibly intense, but running kept me sane and the vices I were drawn to weren’t as needed as before. I lost some weight and crossed the finish line of my first (and perhaps last!) half marathon four months later. I needed that monumental task so I would finally stop putting off excuses that ‘work is too busy’ and make my body my priority. Arianna Huffington wrote in her book ‘Thrive’ about collapsing from exhaustion which led her on a path to finding a real work / life balance. My favorite tip: set yourself a sleep curfew. Yes, just like when you were a child! I realized that I need to be in bed by 10pm every night to be my best self the next day. If I don’t, I’ll definitely be hitting the snooze button for the early morning jog.
3. Your passions. I love writing, but when I would come home very late in the evening’s not only was my mind mentally drained, but I didn’t have anything else to talk about except work. It wasn’t until I started setting a curfew for my work phone – that is, turn the work phone off at a certain time (not just before I went to sleep) – that I could properly ‘switch off’ and start reading books again and start drafting my own. Travel is also another passion, I always had a list of places I wanted to go (and still do) but there were times when it was ‘too hard’ work wise, let alone money wise! All I would think about is the amount of work I would have to come back to. When I finally made a decision to go backpacking in Europe in my early 20’s, I was fully expecting to have resign from my job – but I knew I just needed to do it. I was fortunate, they allowed me to take my 8 week trip and come back to work – but they would never have offered such a break, I just had to take it. Trust me, you will never regret any investment you make into something you are truly passionate about – even if it means an absence from your day job for a while.
4. Faith. I grew up in a Christian household where church was the norm. In my early 20’s I skipped church for a while, but have always kept onto my faith and would regularly study the bible and pray. I am at my most centered when I am part of a community of like-minded people that share a similar belief system. When work was taking over my life, this is one of the first things that would get crossed off my list – reading the bible or attending church became too hard – however I now know it is essential for my peace of mind. Whatever your spirituality is, whether it’s a religion or meditation that connects you to a higher being practice it first thing every day. You have to feed your personal life first before feeding you career.
5. Volunteering / Serving. It can be difficult finding somewhere to volunteer when you are working full-time, but the rewards always weigh out expense. When working in Sydney in television, I volunteered once a month at homeless shelter, which provided dinner and overnight shelter. I would be lying if I said I was always excited to go, but meeting people who were really ‘doing it tough’ from drug users to people who were just struggling to make ends meet, was a serious reality check for me. It gave me gratitude for the life, career and shelter that I did have. Science has also proven you literally get a ‘happy high’ when you do something for someone who can’t give you anything back. Giving back is essential to getting a life.
Want to read more blogs like this? Join my mailing list here.
Rachel DeGiorgio is a blogger and communications manager for the National Health Service (NHS). She currently lives in London with her Australian husband. Follow her on twitter @rachdegiorgio.